Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Alice Waters attacks obesity


lperry
 Share

Recommended Posts

Alice Waters in this morning's NY Times: (register for free)

Schools should not just serve food; they should teach it in an interactive, hands-on way, as an academic subject. Children's eating habits stay with them for the rest of their lives. The best way to defeat the obesity epidemic is to teach children about food — and thereby prevent them from ever becoming obese.

Not only are our children eating this unhealthy food, they're digesting the values that go with it: the idea that food has to be fast, cheap and easy; that abundance is permanent and effortless; that it doesn't matter where food actually comes from. These values are changing us. As a nation, we need to take back responsibility for the health of not just our children, but also our culture.

Strong words.

We're not forcing them to eat their vegetables; we're teaching them about the botany and history of those vegetables. We're not scaring them with the health consequences of their eating habits; we're engaging them in interactive education that brings them into a new relationship with food. Nothing less will change their behavior.

It's an interesting idea. Do you agree? Disagree? Is anyone involved in a school lunch program? Is it feasible?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well certainly something has to be done. I had someone dining with their kids in my restaurant and got the request to put absolutely nothing green on one of the dishes. "My son wont eat anything green." I assumed he was like 4 or something and they just didn't want to go through the struggle and have a peaceful meal. I took a look and the kid was something like 15 years old! I could just see myself trying to pull that crap at any age, let alone 15.

I applaud Alice Waters intention, but have often thought that there were more practical ways of promoting what she was doing. Mind you, I'm basing this opinion on what I saw when I actually lived in the East Bay. I recall that she'd set up this amazing kitchen and garden at a middle school near Chez Panisse. Here the kids were cooking pizzas in a brick oven and such in a food wonderland. Beyond that, it was in a North Berkeley neighborhood that was populated by possibly the most food crazy people in the US. For all I know, the program has changed immensely since then.

I always thought a less romantic, but highly effective tact would be to lower the bar a tad, utilize (and revamp) existing school kitchens and have a more production oriented approach making solid real food, even if it wasn't the coolest thing going. In High Schools, you could have two period of elective classes in food prep prior to lunch and have the kids actually create the food eaten at school. You'd also be turning kids on to a possible job skill. Theoretically, you could even have the HS kids go to the local middle and elementary schools to cook there as well. As a senior, I took classes at the local CC, so I can't see how that would be much different.

Certainly by now, the landscape has changed to a point where that could be impossible. Fast food and Pepsi are donating money for things like gyms and the schools are too strapped to say no. Then they get their foot in the door and the whole school lunch thing has changed. The sad thing is, taco bell etc. is actually an improvement over what school lunches had become. Companies like that have enough pull to demand clean meats from slaughterhouses and tend to do so to avoid getting sued. The school programs have no such pull and often end up settling for the leftovers.

My guess is, the districts that have enough money to do something cool with school lunches also are the last people who really need to get this kind of thing. Likely, they have a larger percentage of stay at home parents and thus, the kids may be getting turned on to real food at home. It's the less affluent areas where it's Taco Bell for lunch and KFC for dinner.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's an interesting idea.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Is anyone involved in a school lunch program?  Is it feasible?

I'm cheering here. Finally, FINALLY, someone gets it. I am so glad to see that someone who people actually listen to, is speaking out about this. i've long held the belief that nutrition and food should be part of what these kids are learning, in a positive way. The tough part is going to be getting this out of the PTA's hands. It doesn't belong there. It belongs with curriculum development professionals, and pros in the culinary field.

Our district ... grrr. Don't get me started. There is a panel. They do almost nothing. I was amused by the "can Gatorade be considered a juice? Should it?" discussion, and the detailed description of what the vendors may consider to be a portion of fruit juice.

I could write for an hour about this.

Edited by FabulousFoodBabe (log)
"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall that she'd set up this amazing kitchen and garden at a middle school near Chez Panisse.  Here the kids were cooking pizzas in a brick oven and such in a food wonderland.  Beyond that, it was in a North Berkeley neighborhood that was populated by possibly the most food crazy people in the US. 

Just for starters, there's a misapprehension here that should be cleared up. The school--Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School--was (is?) heavily African-American and rather slum-like, which is exactly what attracted Alice--if diet could be turned around there, it could happen elsewhere. She wrote:
When I saw . . . the graffiti on the windows and the burned-out lawn, I thought it was abandoned. The cafeteria had been abandoned for fifteen years. Most of the kids didn’t eat breakfast or lunch. What I envisioned was a place where the kids could serve each other the lunch they’d grow.
Details of her Edible Schoolyard project are here.

There's more about the project, and about what led up to it, in my history of Chez Panisse, The Green Gourmets

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like Alice and I like her approach to food. I have my doubts about the food lunch program based on what her work in NY in the same vein. She was complaining that the kids weren't willing to try the mesclun and thought that the feta tasted bad, and she dispaired at that. But, she also didn't offer other possibilities. If the kids didn't have palates that enjoyed this wonderful, healthy food then there was nothing she could do. I'd rather see a program like Detlefchef describes where we serve good, healthy food that the kids are willing to at least try and start changing their diets there. A good roast chicken, some fresh fruit, healthy bread, I would have killed for that option in school and I wasn't an adventurous eater.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds fine to me as far as it goes, so long as we remember that what you eat is only half of the obesity equation, and that no matter how healthy your food choices are, you still have to use as many calories as you consume.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall that she'd set up this amazing kitchen and garden at a middle school near Chez Panisse.  Here the kids were cooking pizzas in a brick oven and such in a food wonderland.  Beyond that, it was in a North Berkeley neighborhood that was populated by possibly the most food crazy people in the US. 

Just for starters, there's a misapprehension here that should be cleared up. The school--Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School--was (is?) heavily African-American and rather slum-like, which is exactly what attracted Alice--if diet could be turned around there, it could happen elsewhere. She wrote:
When I saw . . . the graffiti on the windows and the burned-out lawn, I thought it was abandoned. The cafeteria had been abandoned for fifteen years. Most of the kids didn’t eat breakfast or lunch. What I envisioned was a place where the kids could serve each other the lunch they’d grow.
Details of her Edible Schoolyard project are here.

There's more about the project, and about what led up to it, in my history of Chez Panisse, The Green Gourmets

Fair enough. I suppose by the time I lived near there, it had changed a bit. And I do think that "was" slum-like is the operative word. I'd be surprised if you could get into a 1000 sq. ft home in that neighborhood for less than $500K anymore.

Once again, my main point is that perhaps we should just try to turn them on to how easy it is to make real food, rather than aiming for chiogga beets. The edible schoolyard is a nice thought and may be a sexier thing to sell to the types of people who have the money to support such a project. However, I'd think that before you try to get kids to have an association with soil their food comes from, you should at least turn them on to the produce section of the local grocery store.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Alice Waters?

We don't need no stinkin' Alice Waters.

This project, which grew out of fairly modest roots at a Southwest Philly middle school more than a decade ago, is completely homegrown, has no big names behind it (other than the prestigious university that lends it academic muscle and the foundations that fund it), and has been cited as a national model for both school-community partnership and solid nutrition education.

And as far as I know, there's no mesclun mix involved--unless the University City High School students who operate a commercial garden connected to the Urban Nutrition Initiative grow some for their customers.

The Urban Nutrition Initiative, unfiltered by me

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is the likelihood that school programs that emphasize good, healthy food can compete with what might be served at home?

It depends on what's being cooked at home, depends on the family income, their education, etc.

Another eGullet participant, chefzadi, taught a sort of culinary education outreach, teaching economically disadvantaged people that there's an alternative to "nuking" something in the microwave, that there's an alternative to pre-processed and pre-packaged meals.

You can read more about his efforts to launch the program in this past discussion:

"Cooking classes for disadvantaged folks"

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This isn't a competition between publicity-hungry promoters, but a multi-faceted campaign to undo the damage done by years of cynically manipulative advertising. A number of food "celebrities" on both sides of the Atlantic are doing what they do best. In the US, Alice has substantially reformed the attitudes towards food production and consumption of a spectacularly large number of people. In Britain, Jamie Oliver launched a campaign which his popular "cheeky chappy" image made it impossible to ignore, all the way up to Number Ten. At the grass roots level "dinner ladies" like Jeanette Orrey have succeeded in reforming their own schools. My wife Mary, author of half-a-dozen books on children's food, wrote an award-winning book, Dump the Junk!, with tips for parents who are trying to encourage their kids to eat healthily.

If we succeed in turning things around, it won't be easy. Eating and exercise habits are an integral part of culture, and ours has been telling us for years that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, and without any effort, at least until our credit cards get cancelled.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Alice Waters?

We don't need no stinkin' Alice Waters.

This project, which grew out of fairly modest roots at a Southwest Philly middle school more than a decade ago, is completely homegrown, has no big names behind it (other than the prestigious university that lends it academic muscle and the foundations that fund it), and has been cited as a national model for both school-community partnership and solid nutrition education.

And as far as I know, there's no mesclun mix involved--unless the University City High School students who operate a commercial garden connected to the Urban Nutrition Initiative grow some for their customers.

The Urban Nutrition Initiative, unfiltered by me

Don't really see why there needs to be a competitive element in this. Alice Waters is a big name in some circles but she's hardly a household name to most people. And having access to the resources of a university, plus government funding from the NIH and USDA*, doesn't seem any more homegrown than support from a privately funded non-profit foundation.

Anyway, I thought the best part of the op-ed was about kids enjoying food. Not just how important it is to get xx grams of fiber in their diet per day, but how they deserve the pleasure of delicious food that also has xx grams of fiber. I'm so sick of health warnings and nutrients and vitamins and yadayadayada controlling the entire conversation about eating. That's why I tend to like AW's messages even if they do come from Berkeley -- she's not afraid to promote pleasure.

Others may disagree that this is part of what makes her an important American chef but I think developing better palates in the coming generation will influence the chefs working today and tomorrow. If more and more kids grow up to be adults who can't handle anything green on their plates, chefs are going to be getting a lot more, "chicken fingers, honey-mustard sauce on the side, hold the parsley garnish," orders. The few remaining chefs who dare to put chiogga beets on their menus will be rounded up and sent to the Ronald Reagan Ranch for Wayward Cooks and forced to prepare the "Vegetarian Tasting Menu" (tater tots, ketchup, and steam-tray vegetable medley) until they realize the error of their ways.

*per UNI's 2004 Annual Report.

Edited by ingridsf (log)

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think one of the other issues that is kind of difficult to face is that while the kids may be learning this in school -most eating habits are formed at home fairly early on. If their parents don't encourage them to eat in a well-rounded manner it makes it an uphill battle to change the mindset and diet.

I know plenty of parents who feed their kids pap because for many it is a quick-fix and they don't have to argue with the kid. They hand out chicken nuggets, white rice and macaroni and cheese and anything else that keeps the children calm. It is an easy route but also a dangerous route in the long run.

My Mother inlaw used to cook three different dinners for her sons just to get them eat. The idea of that just boggles the mind.

I am curious if Alice Waters plans on working with parents as well.

Of course I grew up with a Mother who had an exceedingly strong will and refused to give in to our requests for empty starchy foods. Of course at the time I did not want to eat squid, herring, polenta, green beans or broccoli. But I did. I do have to thank her for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, for the children whose only meals might be the school breakfast and lunch I imagine it could compete quite well.

I have read the statistics on poverty/hunger and school lunches and thought it was interesting that this issue wasn't mentioned in the article. Certainly nutrition packed meals would be of exceptional value in these situations.

To clarify, my question was geared more toward my personal experience. Of my friends who have children, a few take pains to give them healthful foods and to teach them about nutrition. A couple of others head for fast food because that's what the kids want, they hear about it in school, they see the commercials, all their friends eat it, etc. etc. One of my friends told me that her son knew about Ronald McDonald and the golden arches before he could read.

I'm genuinely curious if kids will take the lessons home if their parents are teaching them differently.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is the likelihood that school programs that emphasize good, healthy food can compete with what might be served at home?

I think that when kids started being taught about the dangers of smoking, many of them begged their parents to quit. The same could hold true for some kids when it comes to eating. If kids learn that there is more to life than Applebees-To-Go, the might be inclined to ask for other foods.

One thing that bugs me about schools today is that we force our kids to shove lunch down their throats in 20 minutes flat, then hurry them out of the school at 2:30 where many of them will sit home alone for three hours. I would much prefer lunch be turned into a class where they learn about nutrition while also having more time to eat, even if it means getting out of school a little later.

Sounds fine to me as far as it goes, so long as we remember that what you eat is only half of the obesity equation, and that no matter how healthy your food choices are, you still have to use as many calories as you consume.

Very true. But again, I think if kids could learn that food is not something you just gulp down they might learn to listen to their bodies and better understand when they need to stop eating.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having studied and written about elementary public school lunches in New York and around the country for many years beginning in the New York Times in 1976, I am convinced that besides classroom education on diet and health and a demand for better food from parents, our best hope is to have role models who children will want to emulate. I have seen waste baskets full of healthy foods tossed away by children who find them unpalatable (yucky, I believe is the word). Children are hard to please anyway and notoriously finicky unless they are given the few things they like - in my surveys, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, and grilled cheese sandwiches. But if one of their heroes - sports, rock,rap, hiphop, film, cartoon characters (Sponge Bob) or otherwise - were to do public service commercials for healthful eating I think we'd stand a better chance of success.

It is not for nothing that Wheaties "Breakfast of Champions" campaign has lasted for what in my calculation is four generations.

In big cities schools with low budgets, children of diverse ethnic backgrounds with diverse eating habits are not even being taught arithmetic properly. So how can we hope to change eating habits with limited funds, limited teacher participation and, to me the biggest bugga-boo of all, centralized purchasing and basic off-site prepartion? I envy Alice Waters and admire her wonderful experiments which, I am sure, will have lessons for all, but I have serious doubts about their workability in a school system such as New York's. It is very much a one-on-one idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

P.S. Anyone interested in the whys, wherefores, workings and pitfalls of all institutional foods - schools, hospitals, prisons, airlines, etc. - will find a complete analysis in my book, Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life (Morrow). See

Page 158 - The Care and Feeding of Passengers. Patients and Other Captives.

Sure it's a plug, but it is a pertinent one. It is all part of the same story.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that when kids started being taught about the dangers of smoking, many of them begged their parents to quit. T

Above snipped, of course.

I so agree with this point. I do know lots of parents who've quit smoking because their kids were relentless about it. (I know many more who resorted to sneaking smokes to get them off their backs.)

I think if kids could learn that food is not something you just gulp down they might learn to listen to their bodies and better understand when they need to stop eating.
I so agree with this as well. But I often wonder if the "fat is a disability" contingent is keeping this from happening. The issue seems to be that saying fat is caused by overeating and lack of exercise is taboo. Obesity is is genetic, a disease, etc., but you don't bring it on yourself through learned bad behavior ( :huh: ). Edited by FabulousFoodBabe (log)
"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The issue seems to be that saying fat is caused by overeating and lack of exercise is taboo.  Obesity is  is genetic, a disease, etc., but you don't bring it on yourself through learned bad behavior ( :huh: ).

That's true. Most people are still stuck in a false dichotomy that most scientists abandoned a long time ago. Most diseases result from an interaction between genes and environment or genes and behavior, not one or the other exclusively.

The example that is often used to illustrate this point is phenylketonuria (PKU). People with this disease lack the enzyme needed to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, which builds up in their bodies and can cause severe mental retardation (among other things). This is a classic example of a "genetic disease." We can pinpoint the exact mutations in the phenylalanine hydroxylase gene that result in PKU. But here's the thing, the development of PKU can be controlled by a behavior modification -- the avoidance of phenylalanine in the diet. So is PKU a genetic disease or is it caused by a behavior? Neither. Its the result of an interaction between the two, both of which are necessary, but neither of which are sufficient.

Conversely, diseases that have typically been thought of as being wholly caused by behavior are also affected by genetics. For instance, lung cancer in smokers. You can isolate the particular compounds in the tobacco smoke that are carcinogens and show how they mutate particular genes in lung tissue cells that lead to cancerous growth. But the twist is that your genetics appears to play a major role in your susceptibility to lung cancer -- some people have DNA repair enzymes that are sluggish and are many times more likely to get lung cancer from smoking than the average, whereas others have super-efficient DNA repair enzymes. So is lung cancer caused by smoking or is it caused by sluggish DNA repair? Neither. Its the result of an interaction between the two.

Obesity is definitely affected by genetics. Some people can stuff their face every day and gain nothing, while some people seem to gain weight just thinking about food. Obesity is also definitely affected by behavior, and since we can't change your genes once we're born, that's where you have to focus.

Edited by Patrick S (log)

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think if kids could learn that food is not something you just gulp down they might learn to listen to their bodies and better understand when they need to stop eating.
I so agree with this as well. But I often wonder if the "fat is a disability" contingent is keeping this from happening. The issue seems to be that saying fat is caused by overeating and lack of exercise is taboo. Obesity is is genetic, a disease, etc., but you don't bring it on yourself through learned bad behavior ( :huh: ).

I'm not sure that anyone would try and block giving children a good education about food, no matter what their theories on the causes of obesity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure that anyone would try and block giving children a good education about food, no matter what their theories on the causes of obesity.

They wouldn't, right up to the point that they found out it might actually change the budget.

But, there are other things that I think the students could do that would help lower the budget, and not take too much room. For instance, take turns in the bread making for the meals. This could be done in small groups and have a downward effect on the food costs. Ditto with noodles.

Students could make the desserts, cookies, cakes, and puddings--and make flavors that are chosen by demand of the students.

Bread, noodles, and desserts are something that could be done by students without drastically changing any plans, or budgets. It could be easily written into a curriculum, provided it gets signed off on.

But, any change at a school is going to first be met with the question "How much will it cost", unless this is a very forward-thinking school with a good understanding of optimization vs. minimization of costs.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't really see why there needs to be a competitive element in this.

You--and John Whiting, who made the same point in the post above yours--are right. I guess my injection of Philly addytood into the post obscured the message I wanted to convey, which is that it shouldn't take a celebrity to get people to notice this subject.

(I'm engaged in a similar argument on another board about a story in Washington in which DC EMTs left a New York Times reporter to die because--despite signs to the contrary--one of them assumed he was a "John Doe" lying drunk on the street. Critics of the local media--and one of the Washington Post columnists who is riding the story--point out that real John Does don't get this kind of media play when they die through incompetence of this type. They should.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...